In his new book 'XOXO, Cody,' exclusively excerpted by PEOPLE, the fitness instructor details the 'chaos' of his childhood — and how therapy helped him heal
Cody Rigsby, the much-loved Peloton instructor who took third place on Dancing With the Stars in 2021, is opening up about his past.
In his new book XOXO, Cody — a mix of memoir, earnest self-love advice and relationship tips — the 36-year-old details what he calls the “chaos that I got swirled into” during his childhood.
Though he describes his mother Cindy, now 69, as a “cool” mom with a wicked sense of humor, she was also an addict who suffered from anxiety and bipolar disorder.
When Cody was just 4 months old, his father (who was not married to Cindy) died of a drug overdose, leaving Cindy to raise her only child in a one-bedroom apartment in Burbank, Calif. Throughout Cody’s youth she struggled to hold down a job, and the two sometimes had to find temporary housing in motels or stay with friends.
Writing about the painful parts of his life was natural for Cody, who built his brand “on vulnerability and honesty,” he says. “If my goal is to inspire people to love themselves, to sit with their uncomfortable thoughts, I’d be doing a disservice by holding back these parts of my life.”
Cindy, now in recovery, was fully supportive. “She knows it comes from a place of purpose,” says Cody, who has since come to terms with his past and made peace with his mom, thanks to therapy and meditation. “I’ve resolved it, so there’s no need for her to hold on to that guilt.”
In XOXO, Cody, out Sept. 12 and exclusively excerpted here, Cody, who lives in Brooklyn with his partner of five years, interior design graduate student Andrés Alfaro, 33, shares the emotional mother-and-son journey.
While I didn’t explicitly understand that my mom was a drug addict, there were moments when I knew something was not right. When I was six, my mother put me in the back seat of her car one evening and drove along a bunch of poorly lit streets into a sketchy neighborhood, where we came to a stop at an underpass. A thin man who was missing a few teeth approached her window. I couldn’t understand why we would talk to this guy, but the next thing I knew my mother was rolling down her window and handing over cash. In return, he pulled two balloons out of his mouth and gave them to her. Looking back, it’s obvious that she was buying heroin, but all I knew at the time was that something felt weird and unsafe.
When Cody completed second grade, Cindy moved them from California to North Carolina, where some friends had also relocated. They settled in Greensboro, where Cindy worked sporadically as a waitress and in catering. They were, as Cody says, “super poor.” Though Cody believes that Cindy had stopped using drugs by then (with the help of a nearby methadone clinic), her manic episodes left him unnerved.
Life with a mentally ill addict is never exactly settled. Moments of chaos were part of the pattern . . . Like one day in middle school, when my mom asked me to order a pizza. I called Domino’s and asked for one medium pie. A treat! But then, when the delivery boy arrived with the food, my mom decided it was too expensive. “What the f--- is this?” she screamed. “Fifteen dollars for a medium pie? What, you think we’re rich? Like I’m just going to buy you dinner because you want to order in?” She flipped her s--- and eventually threw the entire pizza on the floor and stormed out of the room, leaving me utterly confused.
After he graduated from high school, Cody left home to attend UNC Greensboro but needed to move out of the dorms and back in with Cindy—whose boyfriend at the time had relapsed into alcoholism—in order to help her pay rent. By then “I was exhausted by the pattern of instability,” he writes. So when he got his college degree, he decided to follow his heart and move to New York City, where he pursued his dream of becoming a dancer. He started therapy after a breakup—and talking to a professional also helped him make peace with his past.
When I left North Carolina and moved to New York, my mom pretty much survived on the kindness of friends and strangers . . . I knew I needed to be on my own, but I also knew that being on my own meant washing my hands of my mother’s needs for a bit. It felt selfish, and that was hard. Being selfish isn’t always a bad thing, but it comes with a cost. For me, that cost was a level of guilt I had to accept and live with . . . Beginning therapy and really digging into my past was not easy work. There were a lot of tears and resentment that I’d been burying and denying. But I also learned to make space for compassion and forgiveness—toward my mother and toward myself . . . I went through a lot of s--- no child should have to face. But I also came to accept the simple truth that my mother needed to be taken care of.
In 2019, five years after joining Peloton and becoming financially successful himself, Cody moved his mother to an apartment in New Jersey so she could be closer to him. The transition was far from a downhill coast. Cindy, who by then had diabetes, suffered what Cody says was a “psychotic breakdown” while he was on vacation. She hadn’t been taking her insulin properly and had too much -lithium—a medication prescribed for bipolar disorder—in her blood. Cindy was hospitalized for two weeks. It was, Cody tells People, “just terrifying.”
I’d always known that my mom had mental health struggles, but I’m not sure I knew the extent of them until that episode. I’d had trouble viewing it from a lens of compassion. A part of me lumped her mental health and addiction issues into one big pile of Here’s this s--- that follows my mom around; why can’t she fix it? . . . I came to understand that her depression and bipolar disorder and anxiety meant that she had far less control over her behaviors and actions than I thought.
Cindy now lives in a Brooklyn apartment that her son bought for her, four blocks from his own place. They’ve talked about his tumultuous childhood, and she knows “that’s been forgiven and let go,” says Cody. Cindy is receiving proper medical care, and she and Cody hang out about once a week: They have dinner, catch movies together (they saw Barbie on a recent outing) and otherwise enjoy each other’s company.
The other day I was at my mom’s place, just sitting and chatting with her, and out of nowhere, I looked into her eyes and started to cry . . . I just want her to know that I am there for her. In that moment, I decided to just say how I felt . . . “I love you so much, Mom,” I said. “I don’t want you to worry—I’ve got you.”•
Excerpted from XOXO, Cody copyright © 2023 by Cody Rigsby. Used by permission of Ballantine Books an imprint and division of Penguin Random House LLC, New York. All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
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